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Putting your mouth where the money is

For 22% of businesses, influencer marketing is their fastest-growing online customer-acquisition channel; they invest $225m in sponsored Instagram influencer posts alone every month – and it’s not hard to see why.

80% of personal luxury sales are influenced by online activity; while the addictive element to social media gives it an edge with which traditional print and broadcast media can’t compete.

And in a market where people make millions from brand partnerships simply by vlogging from their homes, the attraction of an influencer lifestyle only continues to grow. According to social media analytics firm Captiv8, influencing can be a fairly lucrative gig even for those on a much smaller scale: accounts with 50,000 to 500,000 followers routinely charge $2,500 for a post on YouTube, $1,000 for Instagram or Snapchat, and $400 for Twitter.

While all of this might point towards a quick and easy avenue to a highly engaged audiences and increased brand success, it leaves a distinct grey area when it comes to propriety, standards and responsibility. It’s all well and good to pump money into social media ads and influencer marketing, but there remains a duty of care to a brand’s audience – whether its messaging is coming from the horse’s mouth, or through a blogger mouthpiece.

From a brand perspective, it’s understandable that those not in the influencer game may worry they’re missing out; but it’s worth thinking long and hard about what the tradeoff may be. Despite serving diverse audiences with different products through a range of industries, some of the world’s most trusted brands – like IKEA, LEGO, VISA – have a lot in common. They know their audience, but even more importantly, they know who they are as a brand and they value what that means to their customers. It’s this idea of truth alignment that’s the golden ticket and the key to building brand loyalty and faith.

With Forbes reporting that 20-50% of all purchasing decisions are influenced by word of mouth, it stands to reason that bloggers who open up their lives and communicate like friends are in demand when it comes to collaborative campaigns. And while trustworthy bloggers are attractive to brands, partnerships between the two can often become a poisoned chalice for the bloggers themselves, who find themselves answerable to two powers: their followers, who expect unbiased, truthful insight into their lives; and their sponsors, whose success often depends largely on the artifice that conceals the 30 pieces of silver spent to secure the influencer’s endorsement.

It’s a reality that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last year, America’s Federal Trade Commission contacted dozens of social media personalities, warning them to “clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands”. Ireland, meanwhile, relies on the ASAI to offer general guidance on such disclosure; however, as a self-regulatory body, its guidelines are not enforceable – leaving our social media somewhat in wild west territory.

Ireland is one of the most active Snapchat markets in the world: compared to the European average of 33% of users and US average of 43% of users posting every day, 68% of Irish users of the app turn to it on a daily basis. So it comes as no surprise that social media personalities like Roz Purcell, Louise Cooney and James Kavanagh enjoy an evangelical following – and the business opportunities that go along with that primed audience.

But in light of the recent spate of exposés in Irish blogging, the very foundation of many influencers’ position – their authenticity – has been thrown into harsh relief.

From brand ambassadors for the Road Safety Authority live posting while driving without wearing their seatbelts; to beauty bloggers selling second-hand clothing with fake label and sizing information; and a number of influencers rebranding cheap merchandise as their own and selling it at grossly inflated prices, faith in this community has been shaken.

While it doesn’t look like the influencer craze is on its way out just yet, the status quo is being tested. It’s worth looking beyond followers and fans, and considering what’s best for your brand – even if that means a shift back to traditional brand ambassador partnerships.

For real, valuable penetration that builds the kind of market awareness you want, it’s vital to ensure you ally with influencers who are the right fit for your image, your brand values and your goals. And in a space like social that’s changing and growing on a constant basis, that means keeping an eye on the fluctuating line that defines best practice, too; the parameters for what’s ok today may not fly tomorrow, so it’s imperative to adopt a social strategy that is agile enough to stay aligned with these changes. No matter the client – FMCG, tech, education, banking – and whatever the campaign, our team knows the audience, the strongest voices, the mistakes that others have already made. We’re always listening, we’re always learning, and we’re always driven to deliver the truth well told.

When it comes to influencer partnerships, you are literally putting your money where your mouth is – so make sure it’s well spent.